Conway delivers antiques. That's his job, and there's something noble, something sacred, about doing the job you're given to do, even in a world that often offers little reward for good, honest work. But this particular delivery is proving to be quite difficult. The first act of Kentucky Route Zero detailed the strange process of locating the titular road, the only way to the address on Dogwood Drive that is Conway's destination. Here in act two, Conway and his companions, an old dog and a woman named Shannon Marquez, find that their travels in an America tinged with magic and sadness are only just beginning. It's a beautiful second chapter in what is shaping up to be a lovely and haunting interactive story.
That's what Kentucky Route Zero is. It's a point-and-click adventure insofar as you click on things to interact with them or to move Conway around, and the characters are unquestionably on a kind of adventure, but there are no puzzles here, nor do conversations have the circular structure they do in so many adventure games. Conversations flow forward, as they tend to do in real life; you're not going in a loop, asking a series of questions to get important information from other characters, but rather influencing how the conversation moves along. In these lyrical conversations, there's a lot of talk of recessions and loans and unscrupulous corporations and people falling on hard times. This is not the prosperous land of the American dream. It's the America in which many seek, few find, and most always feel a little lost.
The maps you travel along when moving between locations are wonderfully disorienting, making the America of Kentucky Route Zero feel as unfamiliar as any video game fantasy realm that cries out to be explored. As you move along roads, buildings and landmarks emerge suddenly from the impenetrable darkness. On your way from one spot to another, you might stop to have a strange encounter in a roadside diner, or to investigate an abandoned old office. All the while, the musical accompaniment hums with the suggestion of transcendent possibilities around every bend in the road.
For much of act two, there's a lack of forward momentum that can be frustrating, though it's supposed to be somewhat frustrating. No sooner do Conway and Shannon find the Zero and hop on it than they are stymied by the overwhelming bureaucracy of the Bureau of Reclaimed Spaces, an agency with its offices in a reclaimed cathedral that may have the information Conway needs stashed away somewhere according to its indecipherable filing system. The bureau's office is indicative of Kentucky Route Zero's tendency to mix the mundane and the unusual to create an America that is simultaneously recognizable and foreign. In many ways the office resembles a typical workplace, but for reasons that are forever beyond explanation, the building's third floor is inhabited by bears.
Conway's travels also take him to a self-storage center where he meets a janitor for whom playing old sermon tapes for an absent congregation is not so much a hobby as a calling, and to a museum of dwellings--cabins and houseboats, stables and chicken coops--many of which are inhabited. Continuing a trend from the first act, act two toys with typical notions of playable characters. During the museum sequence, you still guide Conway around the environment as you usually do, but in conversations, you take the role of museum staff, inquiring with (or perhaps interrogating) museum residents about the behavior of Conway and his fellow interlopers. Sections like this foster the feeling that you are not so much playing as Conway as you are observing his story and participating in shaping it.
When Conway and Shannon's investigations finally lead them to a way to move forward on their journey, that step forward is unexpected and wondrous, and the final scene plays with time and space in a way that feels dreamlike and magical. The act draws to a close with an image that leaves you eager to learn what other wonders await Conway and company along the Zero. If your travels take you to that mysterious road, you may not find quite what you thought you were looking for, but you'll probably find something you didn't know you needed.